The Intensive Language Programme At INSEAD

Julia Linthicum

Even though this week is Launch Week for my MBA cohort, I’ve had the privilege of living the INSEAD MBA life for over a month now. Thanks to the Intensive Language Programme (ILP), I’ve been living in Fontainebleau (or Fonty as we call it), meeting classmates from around the world, and making incredible memories since early July. 

Every INSEAD MBA student is required to speak three languages (at varying levels) upon graduation. One of these must be English (as all courses are taught in English). The other two languages can be almost anything but must be distinctive from each other.

Being American, we're typically taught only one language in school (if that) so I only spoke English and French. Luckily, INSEAD contracts with a local language school to help students learn their third language (or "exit language") and it’s included in your tuition. Additionally, to help with the workload, the ILP is offered before P1. This way, I could focus on learning Spanish (my exit language) over three weeks and then focus on my core classes later this fall. 

This summer, there were around 25 of us taking ILP classes. The moment I hit Fonty I was pretty nervous. I had a bit of imposter syndrome (I still can’t believe that I’m an INSEAD MBA student) and was worried about settling in and making new friends. My first night in Fonty, however, put all of those fears at ease.

I met up for dinner with 16 strangers and have not looked back since.

While we were all incredibly diverse on paper, we connected so easily. The connections, and memories, only grew stronger over the three-week long programme.

While we did spend a lot of time learning our third languages, there was also plenty of time to get to know your new classmates. After class, we’d often gather for dinners and explore the city together. Some highlights of my time during the ILP include hiking the Fonty forest, celebrating Bastille Day, going on a weekend trip to the champagne region, and participating in a Tiramisu baking competition (organised by our incredible Italian classmate).

The Spanish ILP Class
The Spanish ILP Class

The one thing that has struck me the most, so far, is how open everyone is. We all choose to attend INSEAD for a reason - often for the diversity of people and thought. This means that we aren’t afraid to ask questions and to open our mind to another point of view. No topic is off limits.

A typical conversation can easily start out discussing the latest pop culture events but end by debating serious political issues or how to solve the climate crisis. Additionally, since every individual is from everywhere, everyone has unique and varying opinions on the issue. Often, the different cultural or work backgrounds lead to insights that differ from your own. It makes conversing with someone incredible because you never know what direction it will go, yet you always walk away learning something new.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Overall, the ILP was the perfect introduction to the INSEAD MBA. In just over a month, INSEAD has given me countless memories and friends for life. I was also able to easily learn my third language, thanks to my wonderful teacher, Maribel. I also know, without a doubt, that the ILP programme will be one of my highlights from my time at INSEAD. 

INSEAD Hiking the forest
Hiking the forest
INSEAD Languages
The intense Tiramisu baking competition

Looking back, I almost didn’t apply to INSEAD because of the third language requirement. I didn’t see how I would manage to learn a third language on top of completing the rigorous MBA programme. Now, I can’t believe that I almost let that requirement stop me from applying.